It’s absolutely fascinating what’s happening to policing in our community resulting from the new state laws, and what our local jurisdictions are doing in response to new ideas, new awareness, and a need to redesign our approach to public safety and community care.
We have a true opportunity to devise a better, more agile, more just public safety system that addresses crisis situations with a higher probability of success and lower chance that excessive force would be used.
There are a number of new state laws about the use of force, data collection, training, and accountability. One of the new laws I find particularly interesting is Senate Bill 5066 that requires other officers to intervene if they see excessive use of force or they would be held accountable as well as an offending officer. There is a tendency in many organizations: police forces, unions, corporations, fraternities, etc., for the members to prioritize protecting their colleagues over other considerations. This law and the others are demanding significant changes in policing culture as well as the mechanics of policing to address the concerns of the public.
With respect to House Bill 1310, a different new law, I read in numerous news sources that “Under 1310, officers can only respond to calls reporting crimes, not ones requesting wellness checks or other “community caretaking” calls.” I was curious so I read that bill and didn’t see where it says that, wondered what I was missing. The bill is all about the use of force, not what the police department can respond to. I then watched the video of the presentation Olympia’s police chief made last week and confess to still being confused. A graphic from his presentation states that because of HB1310:
If there is not a crime, officers will not respond to the majority of “Community Caretaking” calls such as:
But that wasn’t what the bill said. After watching the video discussion with Chief Jelcick it seems that the overall service intent is that there will still be some kind of response, just not by a uniformed officer. In Olympia, the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) or another service will be the first responder in these cases.Councilmember Gilman expressed his concerns about that, specifically intending to ensure that there will always be some response when a call comes in.
I then spoke with Chief Jelcick, who was very helpful, and now have a more comprehensive understanding of the overall situation. It’s true, HB 1310 itself does not prevent the police from responding in these situations. The Chief’s concern is that by responding to these calls the officers will be put in situations where they will have to use force that doesn’t meet the letter of this law. Additionally, there are other legal considerations that have to do with inadvertently establishing a relationship with a victim where the police will be required to send an officer out in a subsequent situation when that is not an appropriate choice. A primary driver of this policy is a state legal team advising police departments.
Regardless of the source for these changes and how they finally play out, they are significant moves to apply a more appropriate and measured response to any given situation. Ideally, that will facilitate a more peaceful, helpful, and appropriate action using personnel specifically trained for these situations. We wind up with a broader range of crisis responses, often less threatening and thus less likely to escalate. This is not equivalent to no response. How this will all shake out is clearly not completely resolved or understood. These are big changes in the way our public safety system works that involves not only the police department but all social services, especially TCOMM 911 (911 dispatch), a completely independent non-profit agency with its own board. As a major player, 911 is the first to be called and must decide who to send on a call. They also wind up deciding whether a response is appropriate, and that is a crucial yet different responsibility. As every jurisdiction has different resources, policies and staffing levels, giving 911 sufficiently detailed training and guidelines will be crucial to the success of the county-wide system.
I know that all the department heads are scrambling to understand and devise this new array of potential responses. Plus not all jurisdictions have resources like Olympia’s CRU or Lacey’s new Mobile Outreach Team. One possible scenario is that if the police department is reducing their calls, not responding to these “community caretaking” calls, then their budgets can be adjusted to transfer funds to those city departments who are now taking those calls. We can fund the CRU to give 24-hour coverage, increase Friendly Faces for direct intervention, fund another Designated Mental Health Professional, or increase drug and alcohol services.
Who is deciding the policies?
Since not all of these changes are discretely mandated by legislation it begs the question: Who is actually deciding these policies? If the various police departments are selecting and deciding which laws to enforce and how, should those decisions be made by the local government elected leaders working in conjunction with the department? These same questions get raised with respect to any unsociable public behaviors. All jurisdictions have Municipal Codes, their body of laws, and either we should enforce them or change them. And that job lies squarely with the elected officials, not staff.
How to do this will likely generate some conflicts and hard feelings. We know that the police think that they did not have enough participation with the state legislature in drafting the new legislation and that the laws didn’t consider their views or experiences about what it takes to perform their duties. But we need our elected officials to act decisively with respect to the public safety system. The way it works in cities like Olympia is the council can’t direct staff nor make personnel decisions. But the head of the staff is the city manager. He works for the council, and the city council can definitely direct the manager on matters of policy, not personnel. And how we provide services, develop the municipal code, and fund our public safety system is policy.
We need our elected officials to have a comprehensive knowledge of precisely what the requirements are and provide the necessary direction to insure a well-functioning, agile, safe and comprehensive approach to public safety.
Pat Cole - email@example.com - is a former member of Olympia's city council. As a private citizen, he seeks to set a positive tone and lead informed discussion about local civic issues.
7 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here
Tuesday, July 27, 2021 Report this
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 Report this
Thursday, July 29, 2021 Report this
Friday, July 30, 2021 Report this
Saturday, July 31, 2021 Report this
Saturday, July 31, 2021 Report this
Sunday, August 1, 2021 Report this